It is incorrect to define the members of the church as those who are indwelled by the Holy Spirit because Spirit indwelling was experienced by a number of Old Testament saints, such as the prophets. The difference is that before Acts 2, only some believers were indwelled by the Spirit. Furthermore, the indwelling was not necessarily permanent. Therefore, David’s prayer in Psalm 51:11 that God should not take His Spirit from him was a valid Old Testament prayer, but it is not a valid New Testament prayer.
It is not Spirit indwelling that defines the members of the body of the Messiah but rather Spirit baptism. Spirit baptism is the unique work that the Holy Spirit never performed prior to Acts 2, and that is where and how the church should be defined.
A biblical definition of the church, derived from five specific passages, is as follows:
1. The church is the body of the Messiah (Colossians 1:18).
2. The church is comprised of both Jewish and Gentile believers (Ephesians 2:11-22).
3. The means of entering the body of Messiah is by Spirit baptism (1 Corinthians 12:13).
4. Spirit baptism was still future as of Acts 1, and therefore the church was also still future as of that same chapter (Acts 1:5).
5. Spirit baptism began when the Spirit first fell upon the Jewish believers in Jerusalem in Acts 2:1-4 (1 Corinthians 11:15-16). At that moment, the church was born.
As for post-rapture believers, Spirit baptism will cease with the rapture of the church. While post-rapture saints will still be indwelled by the Spirit, they will not be baptized by the Spirit into the body, and that is the key distinctive element.
Arnold Answers is a series of questions from readers with answers from founder and director of Ariel Ministries, Dr. Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum.
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